Working with Councils

Event organiser Julie Whalley knows a thing or two about how the local council can help or hinder your event.

Your local council, believe it or not, is actually run by human beings known as council staff. Most of them have their own families who live in the council’s area of responsibility. Councillors on the other hand are an entirely different species, a small minority of whom need to be handled with kid gloves.

Working with Councils
Pic: Getty Images

There are few council officers, from my own personal experience, who have up to date, private sector heads on their shoulders, so bear this in mind, especially when it comes to keeping your budget in check! Likewise (and this is just a reflection of society in general) those of us aged between 35 and 60 tend to be at the pinnacle of our careers, with a family and a mortgage to pay, and simply cannot afford the time to sit on a committee. We therefore leave the planning of our boroughs to those with little private sector knowledge and/or of retirement age. So is it any wonder that we occasionally find it difficult to work together?

I spent time working for the council, and hand on heart, I can say that council staff in the main are totally on our side. They deal with event planners day in day out in one way or another, year after year. After all, they want more visitors because more visitors means more spend in the local community.

When we don’t get what we want, it’s not the council staff at fault, but merely the way we ask for things and the expectations of the local council. To help them decipher our needs they give us event planning forms and various guides to ensure we speak the same language, and above all that we plan events with safety in mind.

Councils are not complicated organisations really. Society’s need for structure and order was established using military principles for finance, logistics, geographic (maps, planning), strategy, manpower, environment, medical, remedial and so on. Every council is set up like this.

Strategy and planning
Do you want to make friends with your council quickly? Check the local plans for the area to see if your event ticks the boxes in terms of targets in the area for increased visitor numbers, adding value back into the local economy, promoting local producer businesses, engaging with community groups and local charities, providing platforms for budding musicians, the using of public space and promoting public transport.

Tourism and events
Your event will rely on good marketing and not conflicting with other events being held on your chosen date. The tourism team have the contacts not just in your borough but others too. They also have direct access to local accommodation providers, public transport, and community services such as museums, galleries and sports venues that may also offer their assistance be it in the form of leaflet drops, activities at your event, interest stands, chefs to do demonstrations and so forth. This team may also host a safety advisory group that is there to lend you advice and experience, particularly on your event plan. The team will also liaise with the local emergency services, so it does pay to get them on board sooner rather than later.

Environmental services
Health and safety, food safety, animal welfare and pest control all require strict government guidelines to be followed for every event in the country. They are pretty straightforward and have common sense written all over them. If you don’t understand the rules, ask for an explanation; it could be that someone was killed doing something that has now been included in the guidelines to protect others in the future.

Environmental health officers tend not to like their weekends taken up with checking exhibitor stands, so the tighter you are at enforcing the basics the more respect you’ll get from this team. Check out your exhibitors before you say yes to hosting them, and make sure that trader risk assessments and public liability insurance certificates are up to date and suitable for their stands. Be stringent for every event you host; the less the health officers and health and safety teams have to worry about, the easier it will be to gain their support. Animal welfare and pest control become very interested when animals are involved in your event. For example, horses, trailers, dogs in cars and hens in cages all need specialist care.

I use the warning hint, ‘Our local environmental health team very much look forward to meeting you all at our event,’ which seems to reduce the amount of work my local team needs to do. This team also keeps an eye on noise levels and handles resident complaints, so seek their advice in earnest. They will have a copy of the Purple Guide (an industry guide to delivering events safely), so ratios of stewards to visitors, the number of WCs required, and so on, can be obtained by asking the health and safety team if you don’t have this guide yourself.

Waste and parking
From car parking to cleaning the site after your event, these teams are sometimes the unsung heroes. Your local council needs to be your first point of contact for quotes for waste bins, litter control, hiring of car parks for exhibitors and visitors, WC management, grass protection, electric and water supply. It can usually point you in the direction of people who know how to run a good event car park and can offer advice on handling security and cash. This team also gets involved in looking after public amenities such as toilets.

Highways and traffic management is mostly dealt with at county council level, although the local council will liaise with county and/or offer advice on these areas as well as signage control. Posters, signs and banners require planning permission.

Control centres
Not all councils have a switchboard, but it might be useful if you are a small team to try and engage the council’s support as a partner. This way it may allow you to route your enquiry calls through it’s call centre.

Print room
Nearly all councils have an in-house print room team who handle the smaller print runs for things such as letters, basic event posters and tickets. It can be good value for money and they may welcome the extra funds, so just ask.

Communities team
The communities team can bring in extra activities such as arts and crafts, local school engagement, sports and recreational promotion. This team has all the schools and local clubs and society contacts.

Not all councils will offer the same level of support, but they will be used to handling cash for certain clubs, charities and ad hoc events, or at least be able to offer guidance on how to handle cash on the day of your event.

Licensing and legal
Your event will no doubt need some form of license, whether this is a Temporary Event Notice (TEN) or a full site license. Speak to one of the team and they will ensure you tick the right boxes on the right form for the right day so you get the right license for your event. For those traders selling alcohol, check the limits on the council’s issuing of TENs and make sure your alcohol trading sponsors are included in this ratio. Some councils may also offer to run over your terms and conditions and offer advice or suggestions on what needs to be covered by your event insurance.

Handling the politics
However well planned your event is, some councillors can still make things very difficult for you if you intend to host your event in their ward and they are not consulted. Remember, these people sit on the committees that decide whether to issue licenses. Check their history with regard to NIMBYs (‘not in my back yard’; those who oppose anything planned in their immediate area on principle), their personal local allegiances with businesses and community groups, and which committees they sit on. Speaking to other event organisers may reveal some useful information.

Most councils are now online. Events are submitted to councils who publish this information in their committee reports and minutes. It might be worth having a look through to see if someone’s event plan is already listed so you can glean essential knowledge from it for your own.

Although not part of the council, local trader groups often know how to be heard by those who make the final decisions. Check out aims, objections and previous history of supporting the events in their area and try to engage with them.

In short, use your local council’s experience and advice. They do want events to be held on their patch, and their staff will have seen it all before.

Julie WhalleyAbout the Author
Julie Whalley trained as a caterer, had a career in the army then turned her logistics and planning skills to event organisation. She set up and orchestrated Clitheroe Food Festival from 2011–2015. She still consults on the event which attracts over 20,000 people.

Last year Julie launched Event Owl, an online platform connecting event organisers and exhibitors to process trade stand applications. Julie is also a food and drink writer, and food judge.

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